Institutionalizing Social Science Data Collection
Abstract: This project explored the potential for
community-based data collection and analysis to help address the scarcity of
social science data on the fishing industry and fishing communities.
Community panels were established for: Beals Island/Jonesport, Maine;
Portland, Maine; Gloucester, Massachusetts; the South Shore communities of
Cohasset, Hingham, Hull, Marshfield, Plymouth, Sandwich, and Scituate,
Massachusetts; New Bedford, Massachusetts; and Pt. Judith, Rhode Island. Each
panel was comprised of 10 to 12 individuals, a cross section of harvesters,
processors, shore-side businesses, and other members of the fishing
communities. The groups identified issues of concern to their ports, and with
the help of coordinators and the PIs, gathered data through interviews and
focus group meetings, then drafted and reviewed reports. A major goal of the
project was to provide management agencies with information about the
potential impacts of regulatory changes on fishing communities so that
adverse impacts could be mitigated. Another goal was to establish a
community-based, participatory, and on-going research platform in each of the
communities. The panels can be and have been reconvened for special topics.
The coordinators of the panels were asked to report to town committees and
boards to present summaries of the results. These opportunities have led to
management decisions benefiting the fishing industry.
Community panels representing a cross-section of the commercial fishing
industry in Beals Island/Jonesport, and Portland (Maine), Gloucester, New
Bedford, and the Shore Shore (Massachusetts), and Pt. Judith (Rhode Island)
used a variety of research methods to identify and analyze critical issues in
their industry and communities. Early in the process, Panel Project
participants expressed an interest in going beyond the collection of
demographic data that could be applied to fishing community profiles used in
social impact assessments. Each of the panels identified and inventoried
essential infrastructure components for the sustainability of their ports. In
addition, each panel focused on other, slightly different, issues of
significance to their communities.
All port communities noted the importance of considering the cumulative
impacts of regulatory change. Furthermore, they discussed what they perceived
as impediments of achieving or retaining a positive quality of life, both at
the individual and community level. While economics was an important
component, social factors pertaining to such issues as sustainability,
equity, and social cohesion were also acknowledged as significant. Embedded
in their concerns was an interest in a more holistic approach to all aspects
of fisheries management, business and life style.
The Portland Panel emphasized the impacts of regulations that have reduced
traditional flexibility in the industry and forced the processing sector to
seek more consistent supplies of fish (often frozen), but also catalogued the
strengths of and constraints on each of the major fisheries in the port. In
particular, the development of the first display auction on the East Coast,
the Portland Fish Exchange; the lobster fishery and the Northern shrimp
fishery have all helped sustain the industry.
Both the Point Judith and New Bedford Panels inventoried their city’s
fishing industry infrastructure. However, both groups considered an analysis
of the results of the yellowtail flounder Special Access Program (SAP) in
2004 essential to understanding the impacts of fisheries management.
The community panels began to develop their own “social capital” by
creating networks among the participants that were based on a consensus of
values, norms and trust. The panels also provided an avenue for building
people’s capacities, especially by sharing information (education). This in
turn facilitated the discussions that addressed topics that were regarded as
critical to the subjective concerns, but also were relevant to realistic and
effective management of fisheries.
The Community Panels proved to be effective and useful structures to
collect and analyze social science information in response to grassroots
driven needs and priorities. The project gained valuable experience in how
such social science data collection and analysis can be institutionalized to
inform fisheries and coastal zone management. Collaboration between social
scientists, fishing industry participants and other community members was key
to the success of the Panels. Specific results of the project are discussed
in the reports for each of the six community panels.
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